One of the most contentious issues in the landlord tenant relationship with rent control in San Francisco happens when the tenant moves out and the landlord returns the security deposit. Stephanie Gordon of Gordon Property Management in San Francisco advises landlords to be fair. There is a cost of doing business that comes with apartment ownership and much of that cost occurs when a tenant moves out and you need to get the unit ready for a new tenant. The security deposit is not meant to cover this cost. Every few years – or every few tenants – you are going to have to paint. Kitchen floors don’t last forever. Inexpensive blinds don’t last very long at all.
Tenants should expect to spend a lot of time cleaning if they want to get their full deposit back. This will take longer than you think and you will not have the energy to do much of it after a long day of moving so plan on having a day or even two after moving day in order to clean advises Gordon Property Management. If you hire someone to clean for you, make sure they have experience cleaning vacant units. Ask your property manager for a recommendation on cleaners. Make sure you go back to the unit after the cleaners to see for yourself what kind of job they did. Open cupboard drawers – have all the crumbs been wiped out?
The San Francisco Rent Control Ordinance does not cover issues regarding security deposits. If a tenant has a complaint about charges against their security deposit the Rent Board will not mediate the issue. San Francisco tenants have the same remedies as tenants throughout California – If they can’t reach an agreement with their landlord they need to take their dispute to small claims court. This will take the better part of half a day for both parties so try and work things out. If you don’t know why you were charged something, call your landlord – they might have a reasonable explanation – perhaps something you didn’t see or notice.
The best way for both landlords and tenants to be prepared for a disagreement about a security deposit under rent control in San Francisco is to take lots of pictures at move in and lots of pictures at move out. Landlords should document whatever improvements they made to the unit prior to a tenant move in – did they do a complete paint job or just a touch up, are the appliance new, was the unit professionally cleaned. And tenants should do their own walk through as soon as they move in – take picture and make notes about any carpet stains or damages to wood floors, burn marks on the counter tops, any mirrors or glass that is cracked or broken. Send an email to your landlord noting existing damages to the unit – don’t worry about maintenance type items – asking your landlord to make repairs is a separate issue – you want to note the things that won’t get replaced or repaired like a few stains on the carpet or scratches on the wood floors.
Landlords need to refund the tenant’s security deposit within 21 days of when they vacate. The refund check needs to be accompanied with an accounting type statement showing any charges or deductions. If anything has been deducted from the deposit for repairs or damages then landlords need to include receipts or invoices for those expenses.
Some landlords will do a walk through with the tenant after the tenant is completely out, others will not. In California landlords must give the tenant the opportunity to have a “pre-move out inspection” but are not required to meet the tenant at the property after move out. Gordon Property Management does not do a walk through with the tenant once the tenant is all moved out. We provide a pre move out inspection where we can point out any damages we see, but if the tenant hasn’t adequately cleaned the apartment giving them another chance to clean it isn’t always feasible says Stephanie Gordon of Gordon Property Management. We generally either have workers lined up for whatever improvements we have planned or we have a new tenant waiting to move in so we just don’t have the time to give the tenant access to go back and clean.